BOSTON – New research describes the Engagement and Access to Special Education (EASE) clinic at Boston Medical Center as a model to improve support for parents whose children require special education, including the development of individualized education plans (IEPs) that fit their child’s specific needs. Published in Academic Pediatrics, researchers outline the benefits for pediatric primary care practices looking to improve the access of comprehensive care to patients with special education needs, and streamlining support for families who need assistance navigating the complex educational system and advocating for their children.
Launched in response to the increasing rate of children enrolled in special education in Boston Public Schools, the EASE clinic relieves pressure on pediatricians who may not have the time or depth of knowledge to support families throughout the IEP process and education system.
“Embedding these services in pediatric primary care clinics allows families to receive the focused attention they require to the educational issues their child is experiencing, regardless of their diagnosis or whether an IEP currently exists,” says Soukaina Adolphe, MD, co-founder of the EASE Clinic, co-director of the Grow Clinic, and pediatrician at Boston Medical Center. “Understanding which services are available can be difficult to navigate. This is why we work with parents to improve their knowledge of special education and support the advocacy for their children.”
The EASE clinic is tailored to the specific needs of families receiving care at BMC, where 85 percent of patients are insured through Medicaid, 50 percent live below the poverty line, and 70 percent identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. Previous studies have shown that children from underserved communities disproportionately receive IEPs and parents have fewer opportunities to advocate for their children with schools.
Since 2017, more than 300 children and their families have been referred to the EASE clinic, the majority of which have identified as male, and non-Hispanic Black or African American. Of those, 80 percent of children were insured through Medicaid, 20 percent of the patients were from Haitian Creole-speaking families, and 7 percent were from Spanish-speaking families. The clinic’s interdisciplinary model is unique in its ability to draw from the expertise of both clinicians and lawyers who speak Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English.
“Success in school is connected to positive health outcomes for children,” says Adolphe, also a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “COVID-19 has exposed the unique challenges faced by children with special education needs, further exasperated for families in underserved communities who may have also been facing language barriers, financial distress, and discrimination.”
During the 2019 - 2020 school year, 7.1 million public school students received special education services.
Funding for this study was supported by The Joel and Barbara Alpert Endowment for Children of the City and the Boston Medical Center Pediatrics Center for the Urban Child and Healthy Family. Support was also funded under grant number T32HS022242 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.